Palliative care is specialized health care for someone who has a serious medical condition. Palliative care encompasses a palliative care team of specialists who focus on providing relief of symptoms and help with other needs you may have. When should someone be offered palliative care? People can receive palliative care when initially diagnosed or at any stage of disease, because you can receive palliative care while getting medical treatments for you health condition.
Is Palliative Care the Same as Hospice?
Palliative care offers help to relieve symptoms from your medical conditions or treatments, like pain, nausea, or fatigue.
Palliative care supports the patient holistically, including physical, social, spiritual, and emotional needs.
Hospice care is actually a type of palliative care, but it is for those in the final stages of life and no longer want to receive treatment to cure their medical condition.
On the other hand, palliative care may be provided any stage of your illness, and with palliative care, you can still get treatment for your condition.
When Should Someone Be Offered Palliative Care
People of any age who have a serious medical condition or life-threatening illness may receive palliative care.
You may receive palliative care at any time throughout your illness, including as soon as you receive your diagnosis.
Keep in mind, you can continue receiving treatment for your medical condition and still receive palliative care.
The earlier you start palliative care, the better because it can improve comfort and help people live longer.
In addition, palliative care teams understand the stressors you may face and help you and your family cope.
Palliative care can help people with conditions like:
- Heart disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Heart, lung, kidney, or liver disease
- Many transplant patients
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Many other serious illnesses
Consider palliative care early on if you are diagnosed with a serious illness.
In addition, ask your provider about palliative care if you notice things like
- Frequent trips to the emergency room or multiple hospitalizations
- You have complex medical needs
- Increased difficulties performing daily tasks like getting dressed, walking, bathing, or preparing meals
- Pain or other symptoms that are difficult to manage
- Frequent falls, spending more time sitting or in bed
- Difficulty eating or unexplained weight loss
- Decreased alertness or increased confusion
Palliative care can help manage symptoms of illness or treatments such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mental confusion or delirium
- Trouble sleeping
- Fatigue or weakness
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Breathing difficulties like labored breathing or shortness of breath
- Trouble with eating, loss of appetite, weight loss
Palliative care is provided for as long as the services are medically necessary.
If your health condition improves and you feel better, you may no longer need palliative care.
On the other hand, if someone stops treatment and is eligible for hospice, they can transition into a hospice care program.
Who is on the Palliative Care Team
One of the terrific things about palliative care is you have an interdisciplinary team working together with you and your family.
The team may include physicians, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, therapists, chaplains, and more.
Palliative Care Team – What to Expect
Palliative care is a team approach to help manage your symptoms and your concerns.
Your palliative care team will meet with you to discuss your symptoms, what treatments you are getting, and how your medical condition impacts you and your loved ones.
With your palliative care team, you will also create a plan to improve your daily life and minimize pain and suffering.
When talking with your palliative care team, consider asking questions about:
- What resources are available to help support you and your family during your illness. Some palliative programs offer home support with things like meal preparation, shopping, and respite care so caregivers can take some time off.
- Your treatment options, including risks and benefits of each
- What to expect from the palliative care team, and how to focus on those things most important to you
Your Palliative Care Plan
When you initially meet with your palliative care team, together you will develop a care plan specific to your needs.
Your plan could include things like:
- Providing support for you and your family. Depending on your situation and needs, this may include things like help with stress, financial concerns, or spiritual support.
- Help manage symptoms of your illness or from the treatments you receive. The care team will discuss what type of symptoms you may experience and also how to improve your comfort.
- The team will also provide ongoing advice about medical treatment and procedures, which can help you make decisions.
- Providing referrals to other specialists like pain medicine or psychiatry.
- Help manage the stress and emotions that come with serious illness.
- Assist with issues about work, finances, and insurance
- Discussions about advance care planning so everyone is aware of your wishes for health care. The team can answer questions about developing documents like an advance directive, living will, or health care power of attorney.
The palliative care team will do an initial assessment and help create a care plan for you.
There will be follow-up visits to help manage and monitor how things are going.
The team will also help you better understand your medical condition, treatments, and side effects. In addition, your palliative care team will communicate with all of your doctors and help coordinate your care.
Importance of Palliative Care
Palliative care helps improve your quality of life and the quality of life of caregivers.
It enables you to participate in your care plan to meet your specific needs.
A palliative care team specializes in helping patients with serious illnesses and is knowledgeable about what you may experience in the road ahead to help equip you with the tools you need to be better prepared. Palliative care addresses suffering beyond physical symptoms.
Getting Palliative Care
Consider talking with your doctor for a palliative care referral.
Most doctors welcome the idea of having a palliative care team helping patients.
A palliative care team can help you whether you are home, assisted living, nursing home, or the hospital.
In addition, you can contact these resources to help locate a palliative care program near you.
Here are some national resources that help locate palliative care programs:
Many private insurance plans will cover all or part of palliative care, including Medicare, although some restrictions may apply.
Medicaid coverage of palliative care varies by state.
It is a good idea to contact your insurance plan and ask what the out-of-pocket cost are for palliative care.
You may also be interested in reading these blog articles:
Palliative care is patient-centered care from an interdisciplinary team that focuses on the patient and family needs beyond physical care. When should someone be offered palliative care? It is worth considering palliative care early on to improve the patient and family’s quality of life. A team of specialists becomes your palliative care team and design a plan specifically to meet your needs. Palliative care can be provided in your home, hospital, or another facility. If palliative care was not offered to you, ask your primary provider, or a specialist caring for you, for a palliative care referral.